‘Game of Thrones’ star and UNDP ambassador Nikolaj Coster-Waldau talks gender equality, climate change and The Lion’s Share fund

'Game of Thrones' actor: Lion’s Share fund a very simple, brilliant idea

Actor Nikolaj Coster-Waldau may be best known as Jaime Lannister on "Game of Thrones," but away from the HBO series he is involved with many humanitarian causes.

One of the Dane's latest projects is raising awareness of conservation as a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

On Thursday, UNDP announced the launch of The Lion's Share fund, an initiative that asks advertisers and partners to contribute 0.5 percent of their media spend each time they feature an animal in an advertisement.

The fund — which is a joint initiative by UNDP, production company FINCH and goods manufacturer Mars — hopes to raise $100 million annually within three years, and invest that money into a number of animal welfare and conservation programs.

Coster-Waldau told CNBC that The Lion's Share was a "very simple, brilliant idea."

"We all know that action needs to be taken, and what's beautiful about this is that it's privately funded, which gives the fund a tremendous amount of freedom, in the way that they distribute the money," the actor told CNBC's Tania Bryer, adding that it was "very exciting" and necessary right now.

Nikolaj Coster-Waldau
Roy Rochlin | FilmMagic | Getty Images

Having taken on the role of UNDP goodwill ambassador in September 2016, Coster-Waldau has raised awareness on a range of issues including fighting inequality and climate action.

He said he was "thankful" to have been given the position, which allows him to use his platform and status as an actor to help engage people around the world on crucial issues.

While Coster-Waldau is hopeful that The Lion's Share is a success — given that, according to David Attenborough, 20 percent of all adverts include animals — there are other causes that he is also keen to promote.

Raising awareness for both genders

Gender equality, in particular, has directly impacted the television and film industries, especially after the #MeToo and Time's Up movements that saw scores of individuals come forward to shed light on pay disparity and workplace misconduct.

"The symbolism of this last year is very important and significant. I think it's given a lot of people — a lot of men, for sure — pause for thought, for (people) to go, 'Well, maybe I should just think a bit before I act like a complete idiot,' if that's the case," the actor said about gender discrimination. He added that a lot of work still needs to be done.

"The facts are very simple. If you look at it globally, whenever women are empowered and included, those societies and countries thrive," he added, citing the United Nation's 17 sustainable development goals, which is a universal call to action to eradicate poverty, protect the world, and make sure all people experience peace and prosperity.

"We have a huge challenge (ahead of us), we need everyone to take part — and half the population is a very significant half."

Reaching global targets

Another worldwide movement that Coster-Waldau discussed was climate change, and the Paris Climate Accord signed in December 2015 by countries from around the globe.

He told CNBC that, while the Paris agreement was "a great step" in the right direction, more needs to be done to ensure it is adhered to.

Disappointed but not surprised that US pulled out of Paris agreement: Actor

"We know that we're not doing enough. The Paris agreement — that the U.S., unfortunately, decided to leave — was a great step, but already now we're seeing a lot of countries not living up to those goals, and those goals are clearly not far-reaching enough."

At the 2015 U.N. climate talks in Paris, close to 200 delegates from countries approved a framework that looked to reduce carbon emissions and to limit the rise in global temperatures to less than 2 degrees Celsius.

"Change takes time. We don't have much time, but we have to keep [plucking] at it, because there is no alternative," Coster-Waldau said.

Speaking at the Cannes Lions communications and advertising festival in south France, Coster-Waldau told CNBC that even though the U.S.' decision to withdraw from the accord was disappointing, he wasn't surprised, considering it an election pledge made by President Donald Trump.

"Thankfully, a lot of other countries are moving forward and also very importantly, most of the major cities in the U.S. are taking measures that exceeds the Paris agreement. So the grassroots are doing a lot," the actor said.

"So, I'm still very hopeful and I'm sure that we will reach our goals."

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